Tag Archives: Edward Devere



Last Saturday the large mulberry tree planted in 1965 by Dame Peggy Ashcroft, in the garden at the back of the site of Shakespeare’s house at New Place split in half, under the weight of the heavy rains. The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust were quick to erect a sign in front of the mournful wound in Stratford-Upon-Avon saying that it would be strapped back, in an attempt to save what flowered from a cutting of the larger mulberry tree, in its stone wall bedding in the same garden. That tree itself is said to be bred from an offshoot of Shakespeare’s original tree, or an offshoot of an offshoot, currently plump with the juicy blood red berries too. A tree which Germaine Greer in her book Shakespeare’s Wife suggests may have been planted by Anne Hathaway four hundred years ago, to begin the cultivation of valuable silk worms. It proves something has always been about money and survival, and certainly was in Shakespeare’s day, whether in Stratford or London. Meanwhile another mulberry tree in the front garden has caused a bit of bother in impeding the small archaeological dig underway for four years now, that has unearthed a small neolithic pit on the site of New Place, but little else, except shards of uninteresting pottery. In 2012 the Trust applied to remove the tree to get to the Tudor foundations.

The archaeologists cannot dig around or under it though, let alone fell the thing, not because trees are lovely and mulberries taste sweet, and stain your hands very theatrically too, but because it is the subject of a TPO, a Town Preservation Order. One archaeologist, perhaps echoing the sensitivities of what sometimes strikes you as a siege mentality from the Birthplace, was quick to point out that at least it will preserve whatever lies beneath for future generations of archaeologists. Everything is perhaps a vogue, and Time Team did much to bring in today’s spades, a series which should never have been axed. Yet as WH Auden said of discoveries about the facts of Shakespeare’s life being irrelevant to the living importance of the sonnets, for instance, whether involving real dark ladies or homoerotic affairs, I am not entirely sure the bits and pieces even matter that much to Shakespeare, or rather they are, like ‘real life’, always somehow a world apart.

For those in love with Shakespeare, not easy Bardolatry or heritage Britain either, Stratford-Upon-Avon can be a rather depressing place, at times, once the thrill of imagined proximity wears off, and you get stung by the LPA, the privatised Local Parking Authority, that has got into the Press for making such noxious profits. Much that is peddled to the tourists by the Trust too, if not exactly bogus, is also questionable to scholarship, or in getting you back to any kind of linguistic and social source matter. So even to dub the house on Henley Street with its awful concrete chimney stack ‘The Birthplace’, on that original wide market way, and now crowded with anything from The Food of Love cafe opposite, to a Harry Potter emporium, sometimes seems so pompous and makes Stratford a kind of over-sanctified Bethlehem-on-Avon, exploiting the mewling secular God of literature in a way the Bard would surely have laughed or despaired at. Perhaps the Victorians were to blame.

Shakespeare saw so much that it might just have been a knowing shrug, because it has been going on for rather a long time, as that window in Henley Street proves, scratched with some rather famous pilgrim signatures. All this is of course an annex to that behind the stage set work of the Trust’s important archive, which apparently the RSC for one has a very good relationship with, according to the dedicated archivists, the fruits of which are impossible to know until they crop. With a four hundredth anniversary peg approaching in 1616 though, and The Trust assessing the future, perhaps it’s time for a little plain speaking, without fear that it might result in new Midland Riots, or offend Prince Charles and Kate Middleton, now we’re all commoners really. Time to engage in some of Germaine Greer’s loudly flaunted heresies too then, that makes her book on Shakespeare, Anne and the role of Elizabethan women so refreshing and stimulating. Although for all Greer’s bristling attacks on other scholars and their mostly male assumptions, not necessarily less valid than female ones, Germaine is a little too keen to sell her own feminist line on Anne, Shakespeare, and womanhood, and makes some glaring mistakes too. In the same pages then that assure us that all the three un-wed brothers were back in Stratford in June, 1607, for Susanna Shakespeare’s wedding to John Hall, she overlooks the fact that Shakespeare’s youngest brother Edmund’s unknown lady was heavily pregnant at the time in London, in a poor part of the city too, and within weeks would give birth to a boy child, Edward, who died within the month. Four months later Shakespeare’s youngest brother, himself a player, at least in records, would be dead too, on Bankside, at only 27. If that underscores something of a dysfunctional Shakespeare family, or the problems of all families making new ones and their own way in the fighting world, it is in line with so much being written nowadays about the Bard and the times, with a grittier reality than Bardolatry has allowed and as important as getting back to the complexity and passion of the plays and poems.

Meanwhile people flock to Holy Trinity Church too, some to take in the signs assuring us Shakespeare was an active Christian, others to find their own meanings, inspirations and theories in Shakespeare’s grave. Hall’s Croft though, a building in fact dubbed a croft in the discovery of all things Scottish, in the 18th and 19th Centuries, naturally as bogus as BraveHeart, now has absurd and tasteless cut-outs upstairs peddling fun to the family and the kid’s market, in the Horrible Histories vein that seems to swamp everything. Also quite ignoring the rather fascinating story of who lived in that home and how the place itself becomes part of the mythos, that could make its own interesting exhibition. Like the actor Anthony Quayle or the two goodly ladies who owned Hall’s place and spent so much time in India with their Guru. Meanwhile, down the pub in Wilmcote, they mutter that Mary Arden’s house and farm was neither in the original building first claimed for it, in the Wilmcote complex, nor in smaller house down by the wall, today claimed as her house, but in the modest ruins over the road, by the field and overspill car park. Ho hum.

The Henley Street home, being ye holy Birthplace, Thomas’s Nashe’s house on the site of New Place, Mary Arden’s farm and the Hathaway Cottage, with the grave in the Church somewhat appended, are the five jewels in the crown of Shakespeareana for the Trust, at £22 a ticket for the grand tour (not including the £2 the Church asks for a donation, rather too officiously). For me only one of them really starts to touch a time though and that is the more off-the-beaten track working farm recreation down Mary Arden’s manor, whichever building it really was. Perhaps it is about getting away from the queuing crowds too, but there little living displays of archery, falconry, an apothecaries table and a fully served and eaten meal at dinner time, being lunch and the main meal, with real, smelly farm animals too, bring something back to life, and offer a lot of fun. I especially enjoyed learning from a jobbing actor about boys taught archery at the age of six, and the enormous strength needed to fire a Long Bow with a drawing power of a hundred and twenty pounds. The one I shot rather badly only has a drawer of forty.

What is good is not only some authenticity but the engagement of the folk putting on the show, usually not actors provided with lines, but mostly volunteers who are highly engaged and really know their stuff. I’m sure much of this is silly to scholars, when touching the texts of history, but it is important to smell some of the ‘simples’, or the delicious food we could not try because of tedious Health and Safety, to hear men and women call each other Master and Mistress, even to know that women wore no underwear, if Germaine will forgive the ‘Greer’ observation. It should be a new adjective, in talking about Shakespeare and women. But there are rumblings of uncertainty at the moment, not helped by today’s endless need for consultations, and if everyone has a gripe, perhaps its true what one local said, that at the Birthplace Trust at the moment there are “too many chiefs and not enough Indians“. If they are all fired for it, then perhaps we should restart the battle that was waged in Stratford over enclosures.

As for reality, nothing is quite true of history, perhaps, or there are always exceptions that could re-dub Henry VIII with the alternative title All is True. Time moves on too, until it becomes seized into those ‘Heritage’ sales that are sometimes so sad, but our world all over. Although that farm does give you a taste of a world that Shakespeare so often describes and feeds on in living detail, with the memories of his own childhood such a well spring of the magic and miracle that was to come. For me that is one key to a time, and to Shakespeare, that people forget, the mystery and effectively liberation of not any complete knowledge, but the very lack of knowledge, in a specific age before records made it all about death and taxes, or the Tourist shops. With the Reformation, printing and theatres, Shakespeare’s consciousness and delight in words and their making then exploded into the living language like never before. There are other good modern ideas that pop up too though, like the singing tree in the garden at the Hathaway cottage, even the recreation of John’s glover’s shop, although as clean and sterilised as the atrocious low-budget sets for the recent series The White Queen.

The Birthplace makes a mistake in not making more of true ‘scholarship’ too, which is about competing theories, and the fact the Henley Street home was quickly given over in part to a working tavern called The Maidenhead, but I suppose it would be foolish to bring back middens, hanging and quartering, or the Black Death, to get to authenticity and some flow of reality and time, and nor should Stratford be The London Dungeon. Talking of sets, what of course divides Stratford is also the presence of the RSC, The Royal Shakespeare Company, in that weird and rather ugly building by the river, if with those wonderful theatres inside. It is an institution that some of the folk working at the Trust say is a law unto itself and not at all engaged in what jobs and sales mean they have to peddle themselves, willing or not. Then snootiness can be everywhere in Stratford, from folk defensive of the truths they think they enshrine, to actors and artists far above the ‘awful’ tourism, to often rather patronising attitudes to tourists too, who they seem to blame for exactly what they are being sold. Don’t dumb down then, wise up and inspire, and people will always thank you for the ambition and still buy the books and trinkets.

Since everyone loves a play, and the garden of Henley Street came alive when some merry actors appeared, and drew in the visitors, perhaps the RSC might think of donating more of its energies, or some at least, to bringing to life some of the underused spaces at the Trust, like the generous gardens where those mulberry trees lie, split or not, in some spirit of creative frolic. After all, the production of Titus Andronicus is much about the currents of popular cultural success. Lynn Beddoe, head of Birthplace marketing, and it should certainly not all be about marketing, says that a rethink is underway for the 2016 anniversary, while other sources suggest that it will be in union with the local Stratford council, whether wanted or not. I bet many wish they did not have to walk on egg shells, even if a Trust somehow holds Shakespeare in Trust for us all, as suggested by a summer press release entitled SHAKESPEARE BIRTHPLACE TRUST HOLDS CONSULTATION ON PROPOSALS FOR A NEW LOOK AT NEW PLACE – SHAKESPEARE’S FINAL HOME IN STRATFORD-UPON-AVON.

Perhaps the Trust, that surely hardly needed to break a sweat over silly films like Anonymous, although patron Prince Charles was suddenly put up on-line as being on the side of a ‘Stratford Shakespeare’, not any other candidate for authorship, as if a future King was any better an authority than a player or a scholar, might drop their guard a little more and admit we all know Shakespeare was Shakespeare, of Stratford and London, just as his brother Edmund was a London player too, further evidence in the matter. But that marketing and the steady accretion of the bogus beyond that, or indeed the over defensive, does not tell us what the source of genius is, and sometimes simply fuels the silly and distracting counter theories, that also ache to get to harder truths of the times, like the fact of Edward Devere being dead by 1604 and anyone but The Earl of Oxford and a minor contemporary scribbler. (No, we’re am not going to engage again, but you can read some of the arguments here.)

That defensiveness can be a problem with the loftiness or certainty of scholarship too, that Greer takes such a pot shot at, and is often as much about jobs, arrogance, and hoped for gold in them there hills too, as any chauvinism. I don’t say it of the likes of Paul Edmonson, Stanley Wells or the legendary Bob Bearman at the Trust, whose books incidentally are all over the Shop, being the Birthplace Shop, simply because my own attempts to engage with them on Edmund Shakespeare failed, but admittedly on a visit in the middle of people’s hols. Though despite the excellent help of Amy Hurst it was a little odd to receive an answer to a member of the public’s enquiries that said it connected up with “The Shakespeare Circle” [Stanley and Paul’s next book], as though a warning off. If these people had just discovered Edmund or William were still alive and living in Graceland surely as servants of the Trust they would have a duty to divulge the fact if someone asked!

I have seen it elsewhere though, especially when a door shut so quickly from the US front, among a group linked to James Shapiro, as I tried to break new ground doing research in London and to share what is or is not known about Edmund and the players. Perhaps I’m at fault in not quite respecting a claim to ‘moral copyright’ there, but I had begun my search on Edmund Shakespeare quite independently, starting with fiction, and you thankfully cannot have copyright in hard facts, which aren’t ever quite as hard as you might think. The academic ground that really needs breaking then, or the earth turning and airing, is a little more openness, humility and fun about Shakespeare too, from many who could not write a line of poetry, and about the vital magic of art itself, against the questionable validity of biography too, or it being especially valuable or not in getting to the root of genius and inspiration. Indeed we need to ask what people are really trying to get at or defend in worrying about Shakespeare the man at all.

There are two main vogues nowadays. One is that growing attempt to prove Shakespeare a Catholic, led by the likes of the generally inspiring Michael Wood, who Greer also rightly challenges, although it depends what you mean by a Catholic, in those labels so recreated by Reformation, and the other a kind of revisionist history that suggests Shakespeare was either a villan, ‘tight’ with money, ‘ungentle’, a dastardly philanderer, or a man who may have been the most articulate ever, but who openly humiliated and effectively abandoned his own sterling wife, Anne, as Greer spikely suggests. Perhaps you should never meet the author, although with Will I imagine people are willing to forgive a great deal, while it is hardly sacrilege to suggest, as Peter Ackroyd does, that Shakespeare might have got a little fat later in life, or worried about money. Greer is simply wrong though to assume all men have thought women somehow the villains of the piece, or Shakespeare spotless either, and not to articulate more how the age itself, and a playwright who could produce Rosalind and so many other astonishing women, is so precious to that understanding of love, good and bad, or trying to understand what it’s all about. Oddly Greer seems something of the Puritan, when perhaps it was a Protestant Reformation that inhibited female liberation by hundreds of years, or time goes back and forward.

What Shakespeare’s Wife is so right to underline though is how the centuries of attempts to blacken Anne in order to justify or liberate Shakespeare are both nasty and puerile, when, for adults at least, life is surely more textured, rich and problematic too, whatever the meaning of that ‘Second best’ bed bequest in his Will. At times hers is perhaps the oddest book of all then, for the marvelous and valuable detail, since it simultaneously has Shakespeare in love with and dependent on Anne, betraying and neglecting, avoiding London stewes, or contracting syphilis there, and either not there in his own family’s life or there a great deal. So we are told Anne read the sonnets in 1609 to discover Will was homosexual, though also told the label did not exist and it is not possible to pin the sonnets to the cliché of a starting obsession with a man and then a Dark Lady. She neglects the legend about Sir William Davenant too, and a son born in 1606 to another woman, so Shakespeare as more free form about sex or love, but not necessarily in the darker or more sordid quarters of a London cess pit, so associated with players. What it does highlight is the power and importance of looking at Shakespeare through someone else’s perspective, someone so close and important, the same reason for my looking at Edmund and the family.

To be a little less churlish there are many ways of enjoying Stratford too, and one is not to be too obsessed with the points of famous focus, or rather enjoy them near closing time and towards evening too. Make a special pilgrimage to Charlcote too, and that wonderful house and grounds where Shakespeare was rumoured to have been caught poaching deer, wend about the town, to the old Guild Chapel, the Edward VI grammar school, and find your own nooks and crannies in some wonderful buildings. Walk by the river too, feed the swans and take in the singular and usually gentle magic of the Warwickshire Countryside. Then there’s always a play.

Finally to even graver matters though, that tombstone and monument in the Church, which has caused such problems and speculations, first because of that odd three-foot gravestone on the floor, and secondly because of that rather uninspiring monument and bust on the wall. With such concerns about disturbing a mulberry tree today, TPO or not, or local politics that the Trust cannot be blamed for, we’re very far indeed from the patrician days then when Edmund Malone could march into Stratford and instruct the wardens to paint the bust white. A good thing when you consider how many Shakespeare experts have been rather questionable themselves, from even Malone taking cuttings from Henslowe’s and Alleyn’s dairies, to Halliwell-Phillips stealing books, to John Payne Collier forging entries to prove his often convincing theories. Naughty men all, and not the strange Ms Bacon who came up with the Sir Francis Bacon authorship theory. A mulberry by any other name would taste as sweet!

As Bill Bryson points out though, the oddest were the American couple, the Wallaces, who ploughed through five million documents at the National Archives, to be rewarded by turning up the Bellot-Mountjoy case and much else besides. Mr Wallace became convinced that he was being spied on by the Brit establishment though, not exactly impossible considering Prism and Tempura nowdays, and returned to Texas to discover an oil well in Wichita Falls, that made them enormously rich and rather unhappy too. A very Shakespearean turn in the weather. The Trust though needs to somehow temper their over easily digestible tourist trap, with a sense of less marketable purposes, like the significance of the archive, and also realise that too much tourism gets tawdry. Also that you can neither be all things to all people – only Shakespeare can be that, and probably always will be – nor do anything really creative without taking some risks, and injecting new blood, including risking offending someone, somewhere. Does that mean being tough on one mulberry tree to reach other kinds of roots again? If the experience in 1756 of the curate Francis Gaskill is anything to go by they should be careful, since his growing tired with visitors saw him taking an axe to the original tree, and resulted in the town taking revenge by smashing his windows. Or perhaps this storm induced split will remind everyone ‘the rain it raineth everyday’ and that none of the trees are original anyway.

In terms of the grave I must admit that my own nosy, blood hound instinct is to allow someone to drill a small exploratory hole in the monument, not for oil like the Wallaces, but to see if there’s anything inside, whether ashes or almost impossibly manuscripts, if only to put treasure hunting to rest for good and help everyone get back to what really matters, the works. Which could hardly offend historical or religious sensibilities, by leaving in peace the gravestone below it, with that famous curse not to disturb Shakespeare’s bones. There again Greer makes some stimulating speculations and one is that it might be there because herbalist John Hall knew that to disturb any bones would expose a skeleton showing the marks of syphilis. Although to me it is something both about the tendency to move graves and perhaps not to rake over the agonising battles of the Reformation itself, that Shakespeare so fought out, inside and out, indeed the secrets of people’s private lives, that Shakespeare was also masterful at drawing a veil over too, in contrast to our all invasive age and ‘the right’ to know. It is the journey from the pornography of Titus Andronicus to the magical sensitivities of his dance of theatre towards marriage and real union, his understanding of the unseen too, and his strange, eventful histories, to reach the most creative truths of people and lives.

Actually what is so striking about the grave is not just Shakespeare’s stone, but the row of tombs there, right at the edge of the chancel, and thus in one sense at the forefront of the whole town to come, including Shakespeare and his wife, Nashe, Hall and Susanna. It seems that the defense and creation of the mythos then, that in one way culminated in today’s tea shops and T-shirts, had begun as soon as Shakespeare died, like that search for a coat of arms and status as gentleman, in the often grim survival stakes. At times it is as false though to the hard, tender and fascinating truths of life, as that monument erected at the end of Evelyn Waugh’s A Handful of Dust, obscuring all the betraying and messy bits, or a man doomed to jungle madness, fated to read the complete works of Dickens to a lunatic. Perhaps we should all be allowed to dance around a mulberry tree then, with the lads and lasses at the RSC, or go off to The Windmill tavern nearby and quote some Shakespeare, as we drown our sorrows: “The Wine cup is a little silver bell, where truth, if truth there be, doth ever dwell.”

David Clement-Davies is finishing a book on Edmund Shakespeare called Shakespeare’s Brother.

The picture shows the public domain sketch of New Place in 1737 by George Vertue.

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Dear William,

I’ve posted your response in EDMUND SHAKESPEARE, THE EARL OF OXFORD, FALSTAFF AND THE HOLLOW CROWN comments. Please understand though, despite admiring a spirit in your article, I do think “THY TEST IS EVER HAM” and that what ensues from trying to prove what you think self-evident is hugely distortive of so much other evidence, and pointless arguing with too, because the holes in it are so enormous. Despite some arguments about the datings of both The Tempest and Winter’s Tale, there is no doubt they were written well after Oxford’s death in 1604. Are you seriously arguing those were not by the “Shakespeare” of the cannon?

That, and so many other things, including work on Edmund Shakespeare and Southwark here, just make it rather silly, I’m afraid, though everyone is tantalised by possibilities, and leaves some space for them too, like those Latin signatures in the visitors book in The English College in Rome. Sure, Sacred Cows get handed down the generations, hence constant re-inventings and re-interpretations of Shakespeare, as history itself is dialogue between past and present, or assumptions over-write very valuable arguments about who anyone really is, even what consciousness is, especially with such an artist. That’s the difficult nature of any biography supposedly telling it as it was. I would argue Shakespeare far more complex than the “sweet” or “gentle” image, though as a man in life I think he was, but as an artist during the business of writing, he was indeed Everyman, hero, villain, or real human being, as Bloom argues he “invented the Human”. It is why it is so essential not to invade or judge artists during the process of their work, because then they are engaged in archetypal processes that summon everyone’s consciousness and experience.

But reinterpretation itself is natural, as we all rediscover the world from birth to grave, especially from an age only coming into official records. Is it wrong to observe that you argue it so strongly because Shakespeare’s spirit and plays support your or Emerson’s observations about the nasty world, or what might have happened in some regard to Oxford, but that Will can still be what the evidence proves, the boy then man from Stratford? I also strongly suggest any search demands not highly speculative textual clues at all, but only a hunt in archival records for missing letters, facts and a potential confusion of dates. There any real proof would lie, and it is not there at the moment, very clearly highlighted by, though not dependent on, Oxford’s death in 1604. Just a year after Elizabeth had died and James ascended, who, with his interest in witchcraft, Macbeth seems written to profoundly appeal to. While King Lear very possibly writes a brother, Edmund, certainly the strife of families, in years that saw John Shakespeare die in Stratford, then Mary Arden, all over its pages. Edmund Shakespeare, a player, died in Southwark in 1607 and his burial at 20 shillings suggests the payment by his now succesful playwright sibling. I’ve stared and stared at the original documents and records. Then there is Charles Nichols on Shakespeare’s time on Silver Street, also after 1604, and his appearance in court in the Bellot Mountjoy case, that has a theatrical milieu written all over it too. I kindly suggest you admire Oxford for who he was, but give up the rest as a bad lot, though it’s been stimulating, and would be more so if there were real evidence.

best wishes, DCD

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First to apologise to William Ray for having taking so long to get to this and to recommend that readers interested in a Shakespeare authorship question read his article http://www.wjray.net/shakespeare_papers/tabooing-de-vere.htm.

It is not only highly stimulating, and perhaps startling in certain aspects, but in brilliantly quoting Ralph Waldo Emerson, and in Ray noting “Rebellion can be fatal to iconoclasts”, it appeals not only to intrinsic instincts here, but vivid experience too of what happened to an author who dared to shake the publishing system, however shabby, shamed or tortured his spirit became at times, and one filled with a knowledge of and passion for Shakespeare’s visions and search for lasting truth. Some of the arguments we had you can find in the comments under two Phoenix articles, DEREK JACOBI, RICHARD II AND THE EARL OF OXFORD ‘THEORY’ and EDMUND SHAKESPEARE, EDWARD DEVERE, FALSTAFF AND THE HOLLOW CROWN.

Ray’s take offers a moving truth about the real world then, a warning about it and people, and especially their tribal instinct to buy into or reveal vested interests in that world, for whatever reasons. Take Oberon Waugh’s savage “A Handful of Dust” and what happens to truth, and establishment protections of human lies there. That quite stands on its own, but also demands some respect for claims about Devere, and certainly a fascination with the period. But although Emerson, and many authors tasting the possible bitterness of the world, may be right about life or society, as Shakespeare wrote it all over his plays, it still does not prove the case.

Two things struck here. The first is William Ray’s observation, unless someone else wants to refute it, that ‘Twenty years after De Vere died, Richard Brathwaite wrote, “Let me tell you: London never saw writers more gifted than the ones I saw during the reign of Queen Elizabeth. And never were there more delightful plays than the ones performed by youth whose author wrote under a borrowed name.”‘

Then there is, more startlingly, Henry Peacham’s 1612 Minerva Britanna, with a drawing of an arm and hand holding a pen, thrusting out from behind a theatre curtain, with a scroll:”Mente Videbori,” or “By the mind I will be seen,” which also produces the anogram “Tibi Nom De Vere” or “Thy name is Devere.”

But from there the argument descends, in the view on this side of the Atlantic, into something so strained it can only be described as “Shakepeare by Sudoku”. Namely the arguments about Cardan Grilles, or codes to somehow reinterpret Jonson’s dedication to the First Folio, or the inscription below the bust in Stratford.

Firstly, language itself is a kind of code, even game, that all authors and especially Shakespeare are engaged in, as Ray says almost reinventing or I would say inventing a language, to try and recreate or approach truth via fictional work, and find the door to vision and poetry, naturally inspired but not necessarily defined by ‘real’ events. But more important is my understanding that a Cardan Grille was really a template for coding where holes were cut arbitrarily in a piece of paper, and a message written in the spaces, then the paper removed and a message built around the text on the second paper. So that could only be read with the original grille and the unique second paper, where the letter, inscription, poem or whatever now lay. Perhaps I’m wrong. (The assumption being in any functional spy network, for instance, agents would have had to be issued with duplicates of an original template grille, from head office, that changed at various times for safety.)

The alternative, especially for printed, mass produced text, is a “grille” reformatting the order of the printed text, then picking out letters to give your supposed secret message. The one D.L Roper and by extension William Ray has chosen for the bust inscription is seven vertical boxes, by 34 horizontal boxes, attributing some huge significance to the horizontal number, because 34 is 17 x 2, and Devere was the 17th Earl of Oxford. It seems very feeble, and more so because of the strained nature of the message that appears to appear, namely HIM SO TEST, HE I VOW IS E. DE VERE AS HE, SHAKSPEARE: NAME I. B. IB, standing for Ionson, Ben.

But the “Shakespeare” and the “Name” are plucked not from a vertical but horizontal reading of the letters, and actually a significance might stand without them. On the other hand, reading vertically from the same supposed grille I quickly plucked out the sentence “THY TEST IS EVER HAM”! (I added the gratuitous exclamation mark.)

As for the First Folio dedication, that Sir Arthur Geenwood, as if that proves anything, suggested was either code or written not by Ben Jonson, but a “a leering hydrocephalic idiot”, with not much compassion for rabies victims, the idiocy seems repeated in the straining for codes with some 6-2-2 pattern. The text is punning and playful, perhaps not even very good, but it demands no dismissal.

Apart from all that, and it sells books to produce supposed prophecy from a claimed “Bible Code” too, because any long work will do it if you rejumble letters or sentence orders, (thus a clear, intentional and provable pattern must be established first, unless in the Bible case you argue God is speaking directly through the authors), the Oxfordians are again forgetting that if Devere did somehow suffer from the tyranny of his age, or indeed an artist’s desire to protect the well springs of the Self, why could a Stratford Shakespeare not too? Hence answering many questions about not pushing himself forward, and not especially defending his printed work, especially in an age where the printed word and rights in that were being invented. Such an author also finds meaning, pride and power in the success and effects of their living work, and for many reasons finds it harder to stand up and be that “author”. It can be an invasive thing, art or fame, and then was a very dangerous one.

That returns you to a debate that was fully underway in its time, namely that a scruff from the provinces could not have possibly have written such astonishing work. Hence it being perfectly possible that the Devere claim was generated even back in 1612, and with coded “hints” too.

But it’s a fascinating debate, and we’ll leave the “Oxford camp” with a resounding question, that in the many obfuscations, forced links and the Sudoku play of it they always fail to answer. The Earl of Oxford was dead by 1604, so what have they to say of all the other Shakespeare plays? We’d love to hear.




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“Whatever they say I am, that’s what I’m not.” Alan Silitoe.

Always good to see Derek Jacobi, whose I Claudius made everything forgivable, and his programme about Richard II last night, despite that desire to roll the wooorld around the plum of his English tongue. But why, like great actor Mark Rylance, does he go on about the fatuous Edward Devere, Earl of Oxford authorship theory for Shakespeare’s work? Perhaps because both were in Anonymous,or because of strange chips on acting shoulders? He said, with that cheeky grin of supposed assumed knowledge, it would ruffle feathers, or something, but it only ruffles feathers because it is rubbish. We all know nowadays you have to sell a thing by supposedly being controversial, or coming up with the great conspiracy. Though the most moving elements in the programme were actors talking, through the insights of Richard II, of how we are all nothing, specks in eternity, simply a part of the mysterious pattern.

There is a great deal of evidence for the Stratford Shakespeare though, despite the difficulty of reading contemporary records and the obvious desire of a poet and playwright, unlike self trumpeting Ben Johnson, to remain forever mercurial, behind the dangerous, ever watching London scenes. That was about preserving the well-spring of his art itself, dark and light, and not being pinned by anyone. Also the delicate nature of his temperament. There is little or no evidence for the 17th Earl of Oxford, Edward Devere, who published under his own name during his lifetime, as a minor and rather bad poet. There is that little bit of interesting self flattery about Devere being called the ‘spearshaker’ at court, but this was an age of impresses and also the fluid change in the fixity of Sirnames themselves. Did Shakespeare think he was Shakespere, Shakesbye, Shackspere, or was he a mind and spirit on a great journey, capable of inhabiting everyone, who then sured up his own name, as spelling codified, and he found the right to survive and buy New Place in Stratford? To make good where his father had gone wrong.

It is continued social snobbery though that supports the Edward Devere authorship theory, that emerged in the nascent proto-fascist climate of the 1920’s, and incidentally an insult to today’s fluttering Free School movement too. It underestimates how advanced was the Edwardian and later Elizabethan Grammar school education, well beyond learning by rote from the school Horn Book, how grand were some of Stratford’s historical links to London and how a young Shakespeare could well have moved among very educated circles, as a young man, either as player or tutor, or in prominent Catholic families. Besides, if Tony Blair could go on about “education, education, education,” he might go on about what’s being taught, how the teachers around you, in school, life or home are inspiring or destructive forces, or, in the realms of freeing imaginations, sing snatches of “teacher, leave them kids alone.”

The conspiracy thesis of Anonymous, and those who must somehow vindicate lineage alone, perhaps a symptom of any actor’s search for identity too, is that Elizabethan society was highly stratified and players the scum of the earth. All the evidence suggests the opposite, at a time of huge mobility in London and the building of permanent playhouses under James Burbage and others, despite the rich City of London’s attempts to drive them out. The actor Edward Alleyn became a superstar of his day, as did James’ son and Shakespeare’s brother-in-arms, Richard Burbage. Indeed, in terms of the ‘celebrity’ values of their day, perhaps little changes, and it was Burbage’s not Shakespeare’s death that was so mourned in his time. But at least those celebrities set very high cultural standards and the whole of London thrilled to poets and writers, good and bad, as well as brothels, gambling dens, cockpits and bear pits.

As for any claim that writing plays was NQOCD, so not to be linked to an Earl, the Earl of Essex paid for the funeral of Edmund Spencer and writers processed proudly to the grave to throw in their quills. The idea that what was said in those plays could be dangerous, even fatal, so supporting secret authorship, might be more convincing, except for all the other evidence and arguments, and the fact that not only can Shakespeare be as conservative as radical, on the side of Kingship, as against its excess or madness, but he very carefully wrote and rewrote his plays in tune with the changing political weather vane of the time. No time-server, but aware, and also a writer trying to succeed, appealing to popular kinds of opinion, imagination and humour, and going beyond it all. Just as a very aware court protected the players, in part because of its need for the popular pulse and battles with The City of London.

As one commentator briefly said though, on Derek Jacobi’s programme of course, perhaps the most important thing is how all Shakespeare’s plays so breathe and resound with the working life and metaphors of theatre, of the fact of acting, seeming, playing, that you do not pick up as some clever or mediocre nob in the wings. They were written and semi-literally wrought in the revolutionary and thrilling climate of London playhouses, a largely nasty, brutish, dangerous and very smelly place. The Globe Theatre itself, built in 1599 out of the wood of the dismantled Theatre, across the river in Shoreditch, was partly Shakespeare’s owned triumph, and house of vital independence too, sounded out so loudly in plays like Henry V. His independence too from the likes of playhouse owner, bear baiter, Master of the Game, brothel owner, local grandee and all time creep Philip Henslowe. To be fair, Henslowe protected writers sometimes with loans, but fell foul of what he thought it was only about, money. You could go on about the metaphors of Arden forests though in As You Like It, the constant repetition of imagery of gloves or clothes, out of professional working people like his father John, very far from the bottom of any social heap. The journey too of the plays, from experimental bums on seats pot boilers like Titus Andronicus, worthy of blood-soaked Anonymous, through to such an astonishing flowering, speak of one man, one consciousness, rooted in the countryside, on a momentous journey, physical and metaphorical, who lived through his times, and out of Stratford. You do not get to the metaphysical astonishments of Hamlet, under magestical rooves fretted with golden fire, inside the physical echo chamber of his imagination, a working theatre, unless you have walked the boards and written for them too.

Why is it important? Because, apart from truth, given the right soil, and in revolutionary times, genius can grow from and come from anywhere, and die anywhere too, which is not to say Shakespeare did not take on aspirations of the Court, and move increasingly freely in those circles, as patrons fought political battles of patronage around the City of London, that were also about influencing public opinion. The power of imagination is also linked to real life power. As he got his coat of arms and his ceremonial sword that he wore at the accession of James I, and his mind went high to low, probably found more beauty in the high, though far from always, and as much energy in the low. Although Shakespeare died not a hugely rich man, but a moderately wealthy one. Jacobi is an actor who inhabits other’s words, but Shakespeare was actor, poet and playwright too, formative in his understandings and visions, increasingly distancing himself from players, or players that don’t know the purpose of the whole play, or ‘stand beside their part’, and there perhaps is the key. The writer distinguishing himself from the acting he also knew so well. A mind that so imbibed what Shakespeare is all about, living language, where the basic secret lies, of course, at a time of vital metaphorical richness and linguistic fluidity, living and flowering in and through it, completely in tune, perhaps at a time when such imagination was possible, in a way it no longer is. Science has compartmentalized and ‘rationalised’ language itself, so it is hard to even use it in the holist, organic way Shakespeare lived it. That organic connection of language is also about the sonnets and his being a poet.

But that personal relationship to language, a gift for everyone, is not the exclusive preserve of Earls of anything, and great poets and writers come from many soils. Shakespeare also very quickly consumed the sources of his day, in the revolutionary age of the printing presses, from Holinshed to Plutarch, to all the renaissance stories and legends that abounded. He ‘stole’ plots like an ‘upstart crow’, then made them his own, constantly translating through the glass of his soaring, refracting imagination. That attack on an ‘upstart’ came from one of the Oxbridge wits of the time, Robert Greene, who first proved you could make good money from scandalous diaries, as you can’t anymore, and it has marked the divide ever since, that leads straight into the weary Devere theory. So splitting editions between the Arden and Oxford Shakespeares, summoning attacks from the establishment ‘educated’ that ‘he weren’t half as good as them’ and marking a fault line in English consciousness and social values.

There is another element to the ‘proof’ and that is increasing evidence of Stratford links with that vital centre of London life and theatre, Southwark and Bankside. That is one of the themes of coming blogs and original work on Edmund Shakepeare, William’s youngest brother, who is virtually unknown, but was also a player in London, died at only 27, four months after his bastard baby son, in the greatest freeze London and the river had seen in decades, and is buried in beautiful Southwark Cathedral. He lived in a property near the Globe just before his death, called The Vine, that belonged to a Hunt family, and though the link has to be yet made, there were also prominent Hunts in Stratford, one of whom talked of William Shakespeare as the ‘Rocius’ of his time. The Berkeley Shakespeare academic Alan Nelson has highlighted the significance of that.

As Peter Ackroyd argues though, Shakespeare the London playwright was not only known in his day, but a phenomenon, as actor, playwright but also Globe theatre sharer. The secret of ‘no Shakespeare the playwright’ on Stratford documents is about how all signed themselves in legal documents as associated to the Guild trades that legally marked social status and London citizenship. In the country it was about land and property ownership. But many of those people, at a time when Henry VIII’s reformation was also systematizing parish records themselves, making the perceived structures of recorded history, for administrative and tax purposes, for reasons of power, often had very good cause to avoid being put on the record. Shakespeare avoided local London taxes and may possibly have been protected by the Bishop of Winchester, in the Liberties in Southwark. But if Joe Orton advised in Loot, ‘never get caught’, that vanishing act is also about the freedom of the artist, poet and writer. The knowledge of how powerful but also dangerous it can be at the creative centre of the circle.

The work on Edmund though brings to light fascinating unknown material too on players in Southwark, as far back as the reign of Henry VI, a cycle of History plays that have been completely underestimated in their importance in Shakespeare’s ingathering of a time, an age and very specific place too, radical and divided Southwark, an almost physical fault line of the Reformation in London. Henry VI very possibly began the whole history cycle, but it is Henry VI’s reign, really defining the ‘Wars of the Roses’, and what is said about London, power, faith and miracles in those plays, that also links the poet to Southwark, the Bishops of Winchester and the all important religious battles of his day. That makes them just as important as Richard II, if not as good artistically. As Catholicism and Rome were pushed out, or into the shadows, and Kit Marlowe played dangerous games with ‘God’ and the ‘Devil’, and English spying too, Shakespeare turned to the humanist playwright’s art, grounded in very secular themes, the stuff of life, but understanding it all as metaphor to summon the creative energy and visions inside himself, the magic of his art and characters, culminating in Prospero. It was also a journey to other ‘countries’ of reality and imagination, as ‘The Globe’ and England opened in the discovery of the Americas, the breach with Rome, the explosion of City trading expeditions, and Shakespeare felt the tectonic conflicts of his time in his blood.

It is another frustration of Phoenix Ark though that DCD, unagented, and damaged by the story in America, or perhaps it’s just today’s terrified or cynical publishing climate, could not get backing after months of work at the Metropolitan Archive. Perhaps a grand ambition is to make Phoenix Ark Press a ‘Globe Theatre’ for writers then(!), but we’re pleased to give it to readers for free instead. All the world’s a page!

New addition to Phoenix Ark in pages above: Shakespeare’s Brother, the story of Edmund Shakespeare, the missing player, and the biography of an unrecorded life.

Phoenix Ark Press


Filed under Culture, Education, London, The Phoenix Story